Darwinian Evolution: Science or a Belief System?

HomeScience and ArchaeologyDarwinian Evolution: Science or a Belief System?

I love science. I always have. I can’t resist clicking to news articles that talk about the discovery of a new species, or some tech advancement, or about the chemical makeup of my favorite soft drink. At the same time, I don’t always love discussions about science. The reason is simple: most people don’t think very well.

Evolution is a loaded word. It means a number of different things. One common use of the word suggests that all animals and humans ‘evolved’ from a common ancestor. I’ve long suggested that this isn’t a scientific conclusion, but a faith-based conclusion. I’ve seen no evidence to suggest otherwise…and I’ve looked. There are a lot of ideas, and a whole bunch of leaps in logic, but I see no actual, scientific evidence. In fact, the evidence I’ve seen points away from this kind of evolution.

In this video, Ray Comfort asks a bunch of folks who believe in evolution for one simple thing: a single bit of solid, scientific evidence that shows one kind of animal turning into another kind of animal. He makes the natural and reasonable distinction between adaptation (changes in a population to match environmental conditions) and speciation (where one kind of animal, over a long period of time, becomes another kind). It’s interesting to see the different reactions from those being asked. One man appears to get angry when his viewpoint is questioned. Some seem thoughtful.

One final note: Comfort somehow got PZ Myers to appear on camera. Myers is a very well-known biologist, and an outspoken critic of any idea that challenges or competes with Darwinism. I find his inclusion in this video very telling, especially since he doesn’t appear to have a good answer to the question.


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19 responses to “Darwinian Evolution: Science or a Belief System?”

  1. Atheist and Proud! says:

    Can you give can observable and testable evidence of your theory of how God created the Earth??

    • Tony Scialdone says:

      My theory of how God created the Earth is a belief…part of my belief system. It’s rooted in science and history, to be sure…but that’s another topic. I don’t pretend that my belief in God and how He does stuff is science.

      Those who believe in macroevolution – as scientific fact – often do so without examining the evidence…that’s the point of the video, and the point of the post. We need to be honest about both science and religion (and atheism). Religion requires faith, because it cannot be proven by observation and testing. Macroevolution requires faith in the same way, and its proponents, in my experience, are typically as closed-minded as any religious person or atheist.

      Can you give observable and testable evidence of your theory of how life began? Do you have any evidence at all? I’m interested in your thoughts.

      • Atheist and Proud says:

        Macroevolution – Evolution that results in the formation of a new taxonomic group above the level of a species. (1)

        I’m going to break down my argument into four simple primary points that any layman can examine:

        1) Fossil – If we were to hypothesize that there is common descent between species, when we study the fossil record as a whole we should see an apparent and gradual change over time between different distinct species. For example, if we presume species X evolved from, or shares a common ancestor with species Y, over the course of Z years, we would expect to find fossil forms that change from X, to appearing to be X less and less like X and gradually more and more like Y, and those fossils should be independently dated and fit within the current hypothesis in terms of timescale.

        2) Morphological – If we were to hypothesize that there is common descent between species, when we study currently living organisms, we should find various parts of the body that are “left over” parts, remnants from presumed previous ancestor species that those older species would have used for various specific purposes in their specific habitats, but currently have no known use or existing function for the current species in it’s current habitat, or would have current uses that might be drastically different than their ancestors and were co-opted for other uses to adapt to different environments.

        3) Genetic – If we were to examine the genomes of all living things, we should find patterns and similarities connecting different species and they would be related to the extent that the species are related. Like the fossil evidence, we should find patterns over time that fit into their respective time scales, and presumed relatives should share parts of their genomes that correlate to the combination between each species genetic rates of change and the amount of time between the divergence of those species. Oversimplified example: Species X’s DNA is known to change about Q% each generation, and we think that species X diverged from species Y approximately Z years ago, we would hypothesize the DNA of species Y to be at most Z * Q% different.

        4) Convergence of Evidence – If we were to hypothesize that there is common descent between two species, we should find this hypothesis is supported by the genetic evidence, fossil evidence, AND morphological evidence, and that each provides strength and independent verification to the others.

        If macroevolution occurred, we would expect to find evidence supporting the aforementioned hypothesis, as well as each distinct area supporting the others. While this is only an extremely small and oversimplified part of the overwhelming evidence for macro evolution, providing independent and converging evidence that supports each hypothesis would be very strong evidence for macroevolution and therefore your premise, namely “there is no observable evidence for macroevolution” would be demonstrated to be false.

        (1) http://www.thefreedictionary.com

        • Tony Scialdone says:

          While you and I appear to agree with the principles you’ve outlined (that is, we agree that such predictions are both sensible and reasonable), I don’t see any examples. I only see predictions. Maybe you mean to imply that these predictions have obviously been shown to be true, but that’s presuming an answer that’s not in evidence. I asked for observable and testable evidence on your theory of abiogenesis, and you gave predictions (without examples) of macroevolution.

          • Merely Proving a Point says:

            If you were a creationist (which I don’t know if you are or not), and I showed you the genetic makeup of certain, related living things, you would still see the same results. You do not have to believe in something to see results in a biased way which I believe was the post’s objective. Also, fossils are observable evidence because you can observe them. Here is something on it: http://www.agiweb.org/news/evolution/examplesofevolution.html
            Fossils do provide a timeline for us and shows us the steps of the transitions between species. Also, I am not trying to hate you or your religion but I merely wanted to speak my mind and prove that some atheist might be able to answer “The Impossible Question”.

          • Tony Scialdone says:

            Thanks for replying!

            You’re making my point for me, by the way. Part of the video’s point is that people ASSUME that Darwinism is true without actually examining the evidence and thinking clearly about it. You seem to do the same here.

            The assumptions inherent in macroevolution are based on morphology. We see Fossil A and note its shape, then compare that shape to Fossil B and Fossil C. We then compare that shape to a modern plant or animal or human, and assess the physical similarities. We then conclude – solely on the basis of morphology – that these things form a line of ancestry.

            The assumptions inherent in these assessments should be examined carefully. What we really have is an A, and a B, and a C. What we do is fill in the gaps between them and assume that we’re missing the transitional forms, and that those forms must actually exist. We then create, out of thin air, a ‘tree of life’ that has more gaps than actual branches.

            That’s not good science.

            We can compare genes in modern humans and see some of the connections between them, but we can’t do the same with fossils. We rely on morphology (the physical shapes of things) to show us the connections between living things and fossilized things. The assumption is that because things look alike, they must be related by ancestry. That’s a big assumption that the evidence can’t currently support.

  2. Making a point says:

    Please can you disprove all these? http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/ thanks 🙂

  3. Tony Scialdone says:

    Bethany:

    I’d love to. Unfortunately, a number of other people beat me to it. You can find their responses here, in a simple search…look for the word “critique”:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=29+%20Evidences%20for%20Macroevolution

    I’d like to acknowledge two things here:

    1. I haven’t spent any time on the ’29 things’. I haven’t spent any time on its critiques, either. If you have specific questions about specific things, let me know. Your request is silly, but I figured the least I could do is point other GodWords readers to resources for doing their own homework.

    2. I’m not yet convinced that you’re willing to look at the evidence for what you believe. Have YOU read and considered all 29 things, and asked whether each item matches the world you see around you? I have my doubts.

    My goal here is not to prove myself right and prove you, or anyone else, wrong. My goal is to convince people to examine the evidence for themselves, and to be honest and transparent in the process. So, to that end, I have a “request” for you: which of those 29 things seem, in your opinion, to be lacking? They can’t all be iron-clad and perfect explanations, so pick the one you think is weakest. Then, please come back here and lay out the details for us. Tens of thousands will be able to read your thoughts, so take your time. =)

  4. Athiest says:

    Before I answer your question, please explain your argument again… You say that Darwinism is a belief system and say that the fossil record could not be proven if you didn’t believe in it because it is merely a hypothesis. However as we decide to look on this as a chance to learn more, you seem to think it means there it was some other being that created things. Most hypothesis in history have been proven to be true, as more evidence was found (adding to the original evidence). There is evidence, though small and with gaps, that even you won’t deny. These gaps will be filled eventually, we must keep digging instead of giving up.

    • Tony Scialdone says:

      Dear Athiest:

      You’re helping me make my point, and I appreciate it. I didn’t say that Darwinism is a belief system. I said that macroevolution is a belief system. Microevolution (changes within species) is well established, and there are thousands of examples that you and I would likely agree on. Macroevolution (changing from one kind of animal into another) is not so well established. The reason is that there are too many assumptions in the process.

      I live in dinosaur country, right near the Morrison Formation. Dinosaurs are generally grouped into two categories: lizard-hipped, and bird-hipped. Why do they call them that? Because the morphology (the physical shape) of their hips is similar to that of lizards or birds…obviously. The conclusion originally drawn from this morphological similarity is that these dinosaurs are the ancestors of modern lizards and birds. Birds are actually now considered to be descended from lizard-hipped dinosaurs, which only underscores my point: I don’t believe that the conclusions we draw from the fossil record are warranted…not because of some theological predisposition, but because the science doesn’t seem to support such conclusions. Morphology isn’t enough to show ancestry, yet that’s the primary methodology used in assessing macroevolutionary theory.

      You wrote “These gaps will be filled eventually, we must keep digging instead of giving up”. Being a science lover and a philosopher at heart, I’m all for digging and filling in the gaps. Let’s do it. What I’m not all for is the dishonest process of drawing philosophical conclusions from silence. A gap is a gap, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. Telling me that the theory is correct, and that we will eventually know enough to support our current conclusions, is entirely unsatisfactory. We should acknowledge our ignorance, not gloss it over with a steamroller that says, “Disagreement is not allowed. Bow to the prevailing theory or be discredited.”

      The plain and simple truth is that macroevolution can’t be supported with the evidence we have at this time. We lack the means to make definitive statements about such ancestry, and we should stop pretending that the matter is settled. Too often, a religious person’s disagreement with the scientific establishment puts them in the ‘wacko’ category…but the reverse should be true. When someone says (for example, as I’ve heard it a thousand times) that the theory of evolution is true and so the Bible is wrong, I can confidently reply that they don’t know enough about either evolution or the Bible to draw such a conclusion. It’s not fact that drives them to make such statements…it’s faith.

  5. Sorry says:

    I’m kind of sick of arguing over a website… And yes I suppose it is my fault for posting the first comment. Instead of fighting about religion (which had caused far too many wars) let us turn our attention to more pressing matters- the kidnapped girls in Nigeria for example, or the Ebola outbreaks. You may be right or maybe I am, but neither of us will back down. We could continue this till the end of time or we could just forgive and forget and accept each other. I am sorry for ever posting the first comment and want to tell the tens of thousands of people sorry. Have a great day :)!

    • Tony Scialdone says:

      Bethany:

      Thanks for taking the time to engage. I hope that you’re not discouraged from your time here. I hope that you’re encouraged to think carefully about what you believe, and to spend time thinking clearly about important things. I agree that things like kidnapped girls and ebola are serious…but they’re no more serious than the question of how you and I will choose to live. Based on the evidence, I’ve chosen to follow Jesus. I hope you’ll examine the evidence and do the same. Let me know if there’s more I can do for you.

  6. Craig says:

    Tony,

    I stumbled upon your site (the Jesus’ name has no intrinsic power post, i.e. magickal powers), and I appreciate what you are doing here. As the you and the Ray Comfort video adequately point out, there’s no basis for macroevolution – change from one kind to another kind, such as apes to humans. I particularly liked the responses to the challenge of making a rose ex nihilo in the video.

    It’s interesting how those who chose to engage in the comments here mostly (a) were ‘drive-by’ commenters; (b) left in frustration; and/or, (c) tried to change the subject.

  7. Roy Wilson says:

    The interviewer is engaging in a serious fallacy: he’s setting up a definition of terms that excludes a certain position, and insisting on an example to prove the position he has excluded beforehand. That’s sheer intellectual dishonesty. And the result of his unstated axiom?

    By the “reasoning” being applied here, detectives operate on faith: the faith that the information they’re finding has something to do with the present. The basic premise is that nothing in the past, or actually nothing one hasn’t personally observed is reliable.

    Thus the Gospels cannot be counted on — we didn’t observe them being written. We have no reason to believe that there was really a Jesus of Nazareth, or that if there was, that He was crucified. And nothing in archaeology tells us anything at all, because we didn’t observe the events — so despite finding fragments in an ancient library mentioning both Sodom and Gomorrah (that’s an actual discovery, BTW), we can’t call on that to support any belief that there were such places.

    It’s ironic that this page has a link to an article called “Does Science Disprove the Bible?”, because the interviewer in this video just destroyed the foundation of the entire Christian faith, by maintaining that examinable evidence from the past can’t tell us anything.

    The scientific method that is being trashed here is the method that brought me to Christianity. It brought me to conclude that there must be a Creator, so on the assumption that a Creator who made intelligent creatures would want to communicate with them, I set out to find what claimed communication from a Creator fit present knowledge. If I believed what the interviewer in the video believes, I would have concluded that there is no evidence pointing me to that Creator, because no one on this planet can present evidence of having encountered such an entity.

    One big error is that there is no difference between “macroevolution” and “microevolution”. I’ll say that again: there is no difference between “macroevolution” and “microevolution”. Macroevolution is microevolution, and microevolution is macroevolution. To claim they’re different is like claiming that if you pile up a horde of bills for spending, you can’t get a budget deficit: in both cases, it’s small things adding up to large things.

    If I’d encountered this sort of nonsense before becoming a Christian, I certainly wouldn’t be one now. And it’s this same sort of idiocy that makes me say at least weekly that the biggest barrier to being a Christian is Christians — and I thank God I didn’t meet any of this kind of foolishness to turn me away from my Savior before I met Him.

    • Tony Scialdone says:

      Roy:

      First, thanks for visiting GodWords. I appreciate your comment.

      Next, let me recommend that you watch the video again. There’s no sleight of hand going on here. Comfort (the interviewer) specifically defines his terms ahead of time, which is important. Then he asks a very specific question: is there any observable evidence (the basis of the scientific method) that one kind of animal turns into another kind of animal? This isn’t a fallacy, as he’s not excluding anything. He’s asking whether anyone, including university professors of biology, can SHOW him that evolution is true, rather than just TELL him. The point he’s trying to make is that we seem to accept the explanation that evolution is true without examining the evidence that shows that it is true. PZ Myers isn’t some ‘man on the street’, by the way. He’s a leading voice in the creation/evolution debate, and a regular speaker on Darwinian evolution. If anyone should be able to point to a single, incontrovertible piece of evidence that fish became birds (for example), Myers should.

      Your parallel with Scripture isn’t a good fit here, Roy. The Gospels are messages, and they make claims. We can (and should) examine those claims to see if they’re true. When Luke tells us about a census that occurred in a specific time period, we can look for corroboration to see whether it’s reasonable to believe that such a census occurred. What can a Stegosaurus femur tell us? It makes no claims. We must examine the femur to ascertain what we can about the animal. This examination should be as free from philosophical assumptions as possible…that’s the nature of the scientific method. A rigorous examination of the facts is warranted, whether we’re talking about Scripture or femur fossils. Comfort is asking for the facts to be divorced from the assumptions. It’s a perfectly valid exercise.

      There is no false distinction between macro and micro evolution, by the way. It’s a common method of distinction in the creation/evolution debate, and it serves a valid purpose. I know of nobody who discounts that changes to a population of organisms occur over time. I know plenty of people who question the conventional wisdom that this kind of change (which can be observed) resulted in the vast array of plants and animals we see today, in historical accounts, and in the fossil record. That kind of change has not been observed, and deserves more scrutiny before it can be accepted as truth.

      While we agree that the biggest barrier to Christianity may indeed be Christians, let me encourage you to re-examine this so-called “foolishness”. Intellectual honesty requires us to examine the evidence devoid of philosophical bias. Darwinian evolution is treated as tautology, but that seems to be a philosophical, rather than an evidentiary, position. Sound science requires that we divorce philosophical assumptions and allow the evidence to speak for itself.

      I look forward to hearing from you…thanks again for taking time to comment!

  8. Roy Wilson says:

    I’m aware of the alleged distinction between microevolution and macroevolution. It’s nothing but a smokescreen, because the difference is the very same as between a decade and a millennium. The only actual difference between those two is that humans live long enough to watch a decade go by, but not to watch a millennium go by. Both are just a matter of one day following another, just as “microevolution” and “macroevolution” are both just a matter of one small change following another. We can watch those changes, we just can’t watch enough of them in a lifetime to see not just new species but new families and orders and classes emerge.

    If we’re going to exclude cumulative evolution — i.e. enough microevolution to call it macroevolution — because we can’t personally watch that much time go by, then we have to exclude any process that takes longer than a personal lifetime as well. As a result, yes, the Gospels have to be discarded as well, because we can’t observe Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John writing them; we thus know nothing of their authorship. I can go into a library and examine a piece of a manuscript someone tells me comes from, say, 48 A.D. and clearly is a piece of Mark’s Gospel, but I have no way of being certain it’s any older than the man who handed it to me; after all, he certainly didn’t observe anyone pen it, and any records or even scientific analysis can’t change that, if everything has to depend on direct observation.

    Even worse, if we demand that any aspect of evolution be reproducible, then by that same measure the Gospels are gone altogether, because writing them was an event that can’t be reproduced; time flowed by and can’t be redone. Claiming they’re records doesn’t help, because we didn’t observe them being written, and can’t observe any of the events they record or people they talk about. All we know is that the manuscripts exist, but can’t prove they weren’t just put together as a hoax a century ago. Turning to carbon dating doesn’t help, either; we don’t know that someone didn’t carefully mix the carbon isotopes to fool us, because we weren’t there to observe.

    So by the standards demanded in the video for evolution, we have no Gospel, or at least none more solid than Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” — which no one alive observed being written, either.

    Your notion that a “message” is a different matter fails, as well. Observation is observation; it is irrelevant whether we’re observing fossilized fish or letters on a page. Old manuscripts of Scripture are data for theology just as fossils are data for paleontologists just as broken pottery is data for archaeologists: we observe and come to conclusions.

    In reality, we do have observations of not just new species emerging, but new genera and families and orders and classes: we have fossils that show what various organisms have been like in the past, and as time goes on the gaps in that record keep getting smaller as new forms are uncovered. Yet the lack of transitional forms for any specific line of descent isn’t truly important, because what the fossil record shows is that very few of today’s organisms are the same as those in the far past. The only possible conclusion from there is that organisms change substantially over time, and since the farther back we can look in the fossil record, the simpler the forms are, the only sensible conclusion is that simple forms became more complex.

    When in college, I joined an Intelligent Design club. The term hadn’t yet been hijacked by young-earth creationists; the club was a group of students who because of science studies had concluded there had to be a Creator (we had a semi-official club cartoon, the Bloom County strip where Milo exclaims “The universe is a little too darned orderly to be an accident!”), so we had deists and a variety of theists from Buddhists to Jews to Christians. Several came to their faith from the study of evolution, seeing a system that could start with single-celled organisms and end up with humans and dogs and birds and all to be elegant on a level that demanded a Designer for that process. So I have never understood the opposition to evolutionary theory — the Bible most certainly doesn’t contradict either the theory itself or the time required, given the literary genres of the first chapters of Genesis — indeed, I have seen that opposition turn people away from hearing the Gospel.

    • Tony Scialdone says:

      Roy:

      Thanks again for writing.

      There’s a substantive difference between changes within a population over time (“microevolution”) and changes from one type of creature to another (“macroevolution”). I know of no one who claims that genetic variations in a population don’t occur. I also know of no one who can point to any solid evidence that fish ever turned into birds. Comfort, in the video, isn’t suggesting that our inability to observe evolution occurring in real time invalidates the theory. He’s asking for evidence that can be observed today to establish that macroevolution has occurred. Because there isn’t any, it seems reasonable to ask why so many have accepted the concept as inarguably true. As many of the respondents said, they “have faith” in the experts. When the experts are questioned (a la PZ Myers), they can’t point to any observable evidence to establish the theory either.

      The fact that we have no observable evidence to support the philosophical idea of the “descent of man” suggests that the idea should be scrutinized.

      Your explanation of new species makes my point for me, Roy. Think about it clearly. When we find a fossil, how do we know if it was an evolutionary dead-end that went extinct, or the predecessor of a still-living descendant? We don’t. We can say that it looks similar to another fossil, or to something living today, but the only way to tie them together at this point is through supposition. This supposition is not based on observable evidence, but on the philosophical presupposition that the theory of evolution is true. We already know that ontogeny doesn’t recapitulate phylogeny. Why is it out of bounds to ask for a rigorous examination of the facts? I’m all for it, whether we’re talking about the Gospels or the fossils. All one needs to seriously question the fossil record is to see what philosophical naturalists have done to account for the unknown. Punctuated Equilibrium is a theory that tries to explain what the fossil record cannot: how morphologically mature and distinct animals suddenly (geologically speaking) appeared during the Cambrian Explosion with no apparent predecessors. I don’t really care about the verdict as much as I care about the process we use to look for the verdict. If we’re intellectually honest, we will examine the evidence we have…and we won’t pretend that our conclusions are all supported by the evidence.

      I’m not opposed to evolutionary theory…I simply want a sound examination of the evidence. Just this morning I debated a brother in Christ about the age of the earth (I’m an ‘old earther’). We talked about the fact that many find Christianity difficult to accept because some Christians disavow current scientific theories. The problem is that many also find atheism more palatable because it more closely matches current scientific theories. It’s a mistake to swallow a hollow theory on the basis that it might attract people to the Gospel, and it’s a mistake to reject a reasonable explanation on the basis that it might repel people from the Gospel. My hope, and the reason for my website, is to provide those who wonder about Christianity with some things to think about. I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I’m not afraid of the questions. No Christian should be.

  9. Kal says:

    To be honest, I’m leery to believe in Darwinism due to separate species having different sets of chromosomes, each plant and animal alike outside their respective families can’t really mate and merge to create a breed between the two. (Monkeys have a different chromosome set than Humans, despite being in the same family and sharing similarities) I can accept that adaptations have occurred over time, and I also believe that a species can adapt or mutate. (Some humans are born with gills, despite being no longer functional as well as cases of some with “tail-like” growths and webbed fingers etc.)

    This doesn’t necessarily mean that human chromosomes have changed, but it certainly doesn’t mean that humans weren’t something else (To add my faith into it, what if this was a period before god made us in his image? I mean, he did make a platypus, and several things taste like chicken, mistakes or not we’ve yet to determine, if God is all powerful, it’s well within God’s ability to reforge his creations, isn’t it? Or rather, if Lucifer was cast out of Heaven for granting humans knowledge {Theory that Adam’s Apple is an allusion to knowledge} does that mean our previous state was god’s image?) in a period that had yet to be recorded. It’s also possible since many of these are caused by recessive genes (I think), and to have gained that gene we’ve had to have had it at one point or another where that genetic disposition was necessary to survival.

    This would also mean that humans are responsible for the alteration of our physical bodies and genetics due to our state of life over several thousands of years (From neanderthals to what we are now) after the discoveries made of nutrition, pathology and medicine, shelter, and through further brain application, the introduction of tools, entertainment, artistry and crafts, philosophy and theology, we’ve expanded ourselves into a significantly less feral state then our sturdier, yet more primal ancestors.

    Theoretically speaking, in science, if everything is possible, then all our theories have Infinity Positive chances of being correct, therefore every theory is a valid theory until proven otherwise, at which point Infinity Positive becomes 0. As an example, Democritus was by all means correct in his theory of Atoms being the smallest possible division of matter at the time, but was proven wrong further on when it was proven that atoms were divided into sub-atomic particles by J.J. Thomson and Rutherford. (Although several principles were correct. I’d have to revisit them)

    All-in-all, As much as I like exploring my roots though, YOLO. By that I mean while some people dedicate themselves to searching through the past, I also feel that obsessing over the past or going too far back hinders further progress and sends us in a backward decline, I also feel reaching too far forward leads us to disregard the present and blinds us to past follies, with staying at the present leaving no room to improve through progress nor reflection.

  10. Sarah says:

    Love that video. Everyone puts their faith in something. I really like how it got many of them to admit needing faith to believe in evolution when so many videos I’ve seen on evolution the people in them make it sound like it’s all fact, when it’s really not. Now if only they would place their faith in GOD instead. 🙂

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